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SOCAL STYLE / Entertaining

Where's the Beef

Avocados Are the Surprising Substitute in a Vegetarian Meatloaf

May 23, 1999|ED LEIBOWITZ | Ed Leibowitz is a frequent contributor to the magazine

As a beginner vegetarian with nine meatless months under my belt, I hereby testify that a few persistent cravings for chicken shawarma or a pastrami sandwich are far easier to manage than the bruised feelings of my carnivorous friends. In my embrace of health-conscious, cruelty-free cuisine, they detect a thousand criticisms--an implied bigotry--against their meat-eating lifestyle. They think that I think their continued consumption of beef is a heinous crime. They think that I think they should give the ecosystem a break by following my example. And maybe they think that we will never, ever again sit down to a meal of pure nutritional decadence.

Luckily, there is still a food we can all share as a guilty pleasure--the California avocado. With creamy green flesh hidden inside a leathery exterior, the avocado is the vegetarian equivalent of a beef cow. Thanks to its high fat content, it has begun to strike such fear in the arteries of today's health-conscious that many ignore the distinction between its relatively benign monounsaturated fat and the most definitely harmful saturated fat found in a T-bone steak or fettuccine Alfredo. To defend the buttery fruit against this slander, the California Avocado Commission has launched an ad campaign reassuring clandestine guacamole lovers that they're in good company. "Honestly, who among us hasn't ogled the avocado?" it asks.

Alan Hooker, the late owner of Ojai's once entirely vegetarian Ranch House restaurant and a prophet of California cuisine, divined the avocado's potential several decades ago. (Full disclosure: My wife, Mary, and I were married near the Ranch House herb garden two years ago, and the unforgettable scent of marjoram, basil and summer savory may have had something to do with my eventual abandonment of charbroiled bliss at Taylor's steakhouse.) Hooker dabbled in guacamole and avocado-persimmon salad, but surely his most daring avocado maneuver was to substitute the avocado for ground beef--in meatloaf. Hooker's avocado loaf, made with sauteed onions, seasoned bread crumbs, celery leaves, catsup and a pound of tofu, is a feast fit for a Texas cattleman.

When I made avocado loaf recently, it was as much a conversation piece as a main course. For some guests, it inspired confessions of the Jenny Craig variety not often heard at vegetarian dinner parties. Yes, Kathy conceded, she has on occasion sliced an avocado, poured salt on the two halves and devoured them both in one sitting. Cary volunteered that, at his house, where his wife considers a single avocado as sinful as a jumbo bag of potato chips, he couldn't remember the last time he'd polished off either. For others, the avocado loaf brought back childhood memories. Lauren, Cary's ever-vigilant wife, said that while growing up in Washington, D.C., in the '70s, the closest she'd ever come to the decadent avocados of California and Florida was an avocado-green refrigerator.

Luckily, my wife is a native of the San Fernando Valley, where the heavy fruits bend even the sturdiest limbs with their abundance and you're more likely to be hit in the head with a Hass while lolling beneath a shady tree than any Newtonian apple. No stranger to the temptations of the green flesh, she's cultivating an avocado pit in a cup on our windowsill. It has already sprouted six leaves and a stalk 18 inches high. With any luck, we'll be serving avocado loaf to our friends, beef-eaters included, well into the next century.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AVOCADO LOAF

Adapted from "Vegetarian Gourmet

Cookery" by Alan Hooker (101 Productions)

Makes 6 mini loaves

*

Loaf

1 egg, beaten

16 ounces fresh tofu, pressed to remove excess liquid, then crumbled

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 tablespoons minced celery leaves

1/4 cup catsup

11/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 avocado, coarsely mashed

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

*

Sauce

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced onion

1/4 cup flour

1 vegetable bouillon cube, dissolved in 1 cup hot water

1 tablespoon shredded cheddar cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Fresh lime or lemon juice

1/2 avocado, coarsely mashed

Chopped parsley (optional)

*

Mix all loaf ingredients in large bowl. Grease mini bundt loaf tin and fill evenly with avocado mixture. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until firm, 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overcook or avocado will taste sour.

While loaves are baking, prepare sauce. Heat tablespoon butter in skillet and cook onion until translucent. Set aside. In separate skillet, lightly brown flour, being careful not to scorch or brown it too much. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, mix well and let cool slightly. Add cooked onion, dissolved bouillon cube, cheese, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice. Mix well and cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly.

When sauce has thickened, add avocado. (Sauce should be brown if flour was browned properly.) Add parsley if desired.

Serve warm sauce over warm loaves.

*

Food stylist: Christine Anthony-Masterson

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